Cybernetics: Systemic Dissection of George Orwell’s Animal Farm

“Animal Farm” By George Orwell As A System

Introduction

Animal Farm is a novel written by George Orwell and published in England in 1945. Inspired by his democratic socialist tendency, Orwell described Animal Farm as his novel ‘contre Stalin” in a letter to Yvonne Davet[1]. The novel is one of the 100 best English-language novels by Time magazine and is included in the Great Books of the Western World.[2]

The Plot

The novel narrates the story of a group of animals, led by pigs, to revolt against the human farm owner, inspired by Old Major, the old boar of the farm. Snowball the pig takes over and tries to turn the farm, renamed Animal Farm into a sort of utopia with guidelines to prevent animals from becoming in anything similar to a human. However, another pig, Napoleon, who is power-hungry and cruel, chases Snowball out and manipulates the other animals while slowly turning into the same type of person that the human owner originally was. The farm starts its downfall.

Animalism is a philosophy that Animal Farm adopted to unite the animals against humans. The short form of it is “Four legs good, two legs bad!”[3]. The original commandments are:

  1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
  2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
  3. No animal shall wear clothes.
  4. No animal shall sleep in a bed.
  5. No animal shall drink alcohol.
  6. No animal shall kill any other animal.
  7. All animals are equal.

Gradually, absolute power corrupts the pigs and they start to break their own rules and hide their manipulation by altering the rules:

  1. No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets.
  2. No animal shall drink alcohol to excess.
  3. No animal shall kill any other animal without cause.

All laws are replaced with “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”, and “four legs good, two legs better!”[4] as the pigs become more human.

Animal Farm: The System

On December 2nd 1946, Dwight Macdonald, editor of the American journal Politics, wrote stating that Animal Farm only applied to Russia. Orwell answered by saying that “though Animal Farm was ‘primarily a satire on the Russian Revolution’ it was intended to have a wider application. That kind of revolution, which he defined as ‘violent conspiratorial revolution, led by unconsciously power-hungry people’, could only lead to a change of masters”. [5] Clearly, Orwell saw his oeuvre bigger than a mere critic of specific events.

Although Animal Farm has a clear relation to the Russian Revolution (as seen on graphic 1), his allegorical novella is a description of his point of view on why and how a Communism political system is doomed to fail by the corruption of the original socialist ideals.

Animal Farm Russian Revolution
Mr. Jones Czar Nicholas II
Old Major Karl Marx
Animalism Communism
Snowball Leon Trotsky
Napoleon Joseph Stalin
Squealer Propaganda Department
The Dogs KGB
Moses the Raven Religion
Mollie Vain people in Russia
Boxer Tricked supporters
Benjamin Skeptical people
Muriel Literate and critical people

Graphic 1. Comparison of Animal Farm characters to Russian Revolution actors.[6]

Cybernetic first emerged as brain science and psychiatry, but quickly spread to other fields: robotics, engineering, biological computing, management, politics, spirituality (if that is a field), entertainment, the arts, theater and architecture (music, too), education, etc. Cybernetics didn’t remain contained by a specific department, “cybernetics is better seen as a form of life, a way of going on in the world, even an attitude”[7]. Following this spirit, and inspired by definition of “cybernetics” as “the science of steersmanship”, I chose Orwell’s renown novel Animal Farm as a the main subject for this paper.

From a teleological perspective, one of the most interest aspects of Animal Farm as a system to me is how powerful is active behavior. The regime established by Napoleon is clearly purposeful towards the pigs’ own ambitions and desires. However, they advertise their government in an untruthful fashion, announcing a different model, a model based on Old Major’s and Snowball’s ideals. Being cheated by their leader, the animals of the farm cannot predict the future behavior and actions of Napoleon. Deceive makes this system purposeful but non-extrapolative.[8]

Stocks, loops, interconnections, and goal(s)

Animal Farm is about 30 thousand words[9] and some intended simplifications regarding its parallelism with the Russian Revolution should be expected. However, Orwell’s clever writing and clear ideological structure make Animal Farm a great book and its plot worth of being dissected. Systematically.  In a similar way in which Walter’s tortoise and Ashby’s homeostat were intended as simplified electromechanical models of the physiological brain, Animal Farm can be used as a description of the flow of power in a Communist model.

The main subject of the novel is power and how greed turned an ideal of equality into a cruel dictatorship, no different than the model it wanted to replace in the first place. In the following diagram, PIGS’ POWER is the main stock. Pigs were the precursors of Animalism as an idea and they commanded the rebellion against the human leadership. As a result of their victorious quest, the farm agreed on giving them control of their new system, based on Seven Commandments as proclaimed by Snowball. These principles serve as a balancing loop to the Pigs’ Power: as long as the ideals of Animalism are respected, equality is achieved and pigs have a limited and controlled power over the rest of the farm. However, Napoleon’s greed acts as a reinforcing loop that increases Pigs’ Power to the point of Dictatorship, an overflow of power.

In this graphic, both loops (balancing and reinforcing) have the same influence on the system and thus, Animal Farm is a stable system that serves its purpose: to give animals a fair treat in an environment of equality.

Graphic 2. The beginning stages of Animal Farm, as formed and leaded by Snowball.

However, as we take into consideration other “leverage points” as described by Donella Meadows, the system changes its interconnections and its purpose becoming unrecognizable[10] and ultimately failing.

Graphic 3 is a more complex, more revealing diagram of the events occurred in Animal Farm from a systemic point of view.  The main stock described is Pigs’ Power and, as in any other system, it’s affected by other elements and interconnections.

The first influence of the system is Mr. Jones’ unfair treat to the animals of the farm. The total rejection to that system is the basis of the rebellion, the birth of Animal Farm, and the Animalism’s original Seven Commandments. Mr. Jones is a reinforcing loop for Power; no animal wants to have a human leader/owner anymore.

On the other hand, the main balancing (or negative) loop is Animalism, the ideal that all animals are equal. This set of codes is what keeps the pigs from getting more power.  Both Old Major and Snowball are great contributors to the idealistic goal.

However, a reinforcing (positive) loop appears in scene: Napoleon’s greed. Hunger of power is what starts changing Pigs’ restricted power into a cruel dictatorship, and as dictatorship grows, greed grows too.

Graphic 3. A system in decadence: why the Animal Farm failed.

As shown in the model, we can see how greed and dictatorship have some tools to weaken Animalism. The first obstacle is obviously Snowball and when the dictatorial command gets rid oh him; Animalism suffers greatly, giving more power to Napoleon. Dogs are positively encouraged by the dictator to control the rest of the animals thus balancing the strength of the principles in the system. In a similar way, Squealer, the ‘spokesanimal’ of the regime, uses misinformation to affect the farm’s original ideals.

Other animals have specific roles in the narrative. For instance, Boxer the horse is a blind follower of the government. He is not influenced by the Dictatorship because he is an easy piece to control and his contribution is to augment Napoleon’s greed. Mollie the mare is superficial and avoids participation which serves perfectly in the pigs’ plan to gain more power. Moses the Raven preaches about the fictitious Sugarcandy Mountain (heaven), which is a huge distraction for some animals to find out the truth about the decaying system. Pigs win again. Squealer’s job is successful as misinformation is a key ingredient in Napoleon’s plan.

In contrast, Muriel and Benjamin are very skeptical and distrust the government’s words. Their awareness is a balancing loop to Pigs’ Power. However, they are completely outnumbered and their influence is almost non-existent.

In the end of the book, we see how the Animal Farm system completely changes its purpose to the point of non-recognition. Napoleon and the pigs alter their behavior completely and adopt human’s conducts and manners. Napoleon announces a new pact with the humans against laboring classes. The animals see an argument breaks out between Napoleon and a neighbor farmer when they both play cards, and the animals realize that the faces of the pigs look like the faces of humans and no one can tell the difference between them.

Endnotes


[1] “About – Animal Farm | George Orwell Novels”, n.d. http://georgeorwellnovels.com/books/about-animal-farm/.

[2] “Encyclopaedia Britannica Online Shop – (ENC_BOOK) Great Books of the Western World”, n.d. http://britannicashop.britannica.co.uk/epages/Store.sf/Shops/Britannicashop/Products/ENC_BOOK_0123.html.

[3] “Animal Farm.” George Orwell -. Web. 09 Mar. 2012. <http://george-orwell.org/Animal_Farm/index.html&gt;.

[4] “George Orwell’s Animal Farm – MP3 Audio : George Orwell : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive”, n.d. http://www.archive.org/details/GeorgeOrwellsanimalFarmRadioAudio.

[5] “George Orwell: Animal Farm: A Fairy Story — ‘A Note on the Text’ by Peter Davison, 2000”, n.d. http://web.archive.org/web/20061212041856/http://www.orwell.ru/library/novels/Animal_Farm/english/eint_pd.

[6] “Animal Farm – Comparison of Characters to the Russian Revolution”, n.d. http://barney.gonzaga.edu/~sbennet3/mead/lessonplans/animalfarm.htm.

[7] Andrew Pickering. The Cybernetic Brain : Sketches of Another Future. Chicago: THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS, 2010.

[8] Arturo Rosenblueth, Norbert Wiener and Julian Bigelow. “Behavior, Purpose and Teleology.” Philosophy of Science. 18-24 (1943).

[9] “Orwell’s Letters to His Agent Concerning Animal Farm – George Orwell Links”, n.d. http://www.netcharles.com/orwell/articles/letters-agent-af.htm.

[10] Donella H. Meadows. Thinking in Systems: A Primer. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008.

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One comment

  1. tony

    This. This is amazing.

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